“Be careful, sometimes I forget my sippy-cup on the grass,” a wee girl flatly stated to her new student.
The elderly student, securing his cup's lid, replied, “I've done that before.”
The emboldened girl whispered conspiratorially, “Also, I get so excited playing, I forget to go to the bathroom.”
The fellow chuckled, and in a gracious tone said, “Been known to do that, too.”
The little girl continued, “I cry sometimes when I don't win.”
The fellow nodded, “That'd be me as well.”
“You don't have to worry, though,” said the young lady, “I won't beat you too awful bad.”
She felt the warmth of the wrinkled, soft hand.
“OK, now show me how to play this game,” said the older gentleman.
In an effort to reduce “age silo-ing,” the city of Delray Beach Park and Recreation in Florida is creating multi-generational activities at Veteran's Park, located on the Intracoastal Waterway.
The park is already a “natural” draw for groups -- Palm Beach County's lawn-bowling facility and an elaborate outdoor playground are housed there, as well as a building that -- thanks to Recreation Site Supervisor Samantha Roland -- is bucking the demographic trend to convert community facilities to senior centers.
Building A Case
This society has a tendency to separate people by age groups. The media and other sources perpetuate this tendency by portraying stereotypical images of both the young and the aging.
As a result, “wee ones” and “oldsters” do not have many opportunities to interact, or to learn about each other firsthand.
As reported by the National Council on Aging, many community centers are adding programs to underscore the critical role senior centers play in helping millions of older adults stay healthy, involved and independent in their homes and communities. Roland has been bringing in Kindermusik, Zumba and belly-dancing to augment her tai chi, balance and breathing and bridge classes.
“The ultimate, intentional goal for these programs has been the creation of a supportive yet transformative environment for the reflection of intergenerational well-being,” says Roland.
She continues, “The spaces are being arranged to create harmony and balance, and to use energy in the most positive way. We also want to promote a smooth flow of activity between our wonderful indoor space and our beautiful park setting.”
From lawn bowling, shuffleboard and super-sized croquet, to wellness classes that take advantage of the inspiring view and topographical features, the community is able to enjoy all the park has to offer.
Randy Eady, an instructor at the park, an intergenerational rehabilitation specialist, and a member of the International Council on Active Aging, is helping guide this effort. As an affiliate of Generations United and a “Generations Manager,” he's built plenty of bridges across age-spans and facilitated a better understanding of the diverse makeup of older, active adults.
In one instance, he created a “mini-golf barefoot path” near a senior-living center in a small resort village in Germany so grandparents and grandchildren could interact in the outdoors. He also designed the first intergenerational balance, coordination and fall-prevention program in Florida, now in progress at the ACTS Retirement Communities in Boca Raton.
The Lawn Sport Triathlon
After hosting a “Sport as Art” event earlier this year and seeing the popularity of super-sized croquet, Roland and Eady realized an intergenerational-format Lawn Sport Triathlon would be the perfect way to showcase the park’s facilities, and underscore the benefits of bringing generations together. The lineup included super-sized croquet, Disc Golf and lawn bowling.
Setting up the event required careful consideration of each sport's space, time and physical-exertion requirements. Lawn bowling was already an onsite fixture, so an orientation on Disc Golf by instructors from the National Croquet Center and players from the local college helped to round out the organizers’ experience. A layout was devised to accommodate all three activities in fewer than four acres of the park. A cap of 112 participants was established.
One interesting requirement -- each team (of four) needed to have 50-plus years difference between the oldest and youngest teammates.
Teams were then divided among the three activities:
• Four teams at each of the four Disc Golf holes
• Eight teams at the four lawn bowls
• Four teams on the super-sized croquet field
After the first round, a “cut” was made, and the remaining teams moved on to the second round. The top two teams eventually went head-to-head in a championship round.
Then the remaining two teams in each sport were considered for the Individual Lawn Sport awards in:
• Best Lawn Bowler
• Best SS Croquet
• Best Disc Golf.
Benefits For All
Planning and developing intergenerational programs is a process that considers the needs and emotions of all participants. For example, the physical limitations of older adults need to be understood, while the emotional boundaries of children should be considered (too many adults entering and exiting a child’s life may confuse him or her and cause trust issues).
Research indicates that an older person’s engagement in physical activity can extend years of active, independent life, reduce morbidity and mortality, and lower healthcare costs. However, less than one-third of Americans age 65 and older meet the recommended level of physical activity (moderate-intensity activity at least 5 days per week, and at least 30 minutes per day).
Many programs that increase an older person’s level of physical activity have been shown to enhance the quality of life. (1) Mixing children with elders magnifies the benefits for both groups.
Super Growth Of The 75-Plus Demographic
Why is spirited intergenerational play so vital? The growth rate of the 75-plus demographic is 3.5 times the total population rate in North America. Plus, expansion of the 75-plus age group will be accelerating for at least 20 years. As more people mature, it helps to recognize the mid-70s in a framework of “nouveau adolescence.” (2)
Cultural anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson sees aging as an “improvisational art form calling for imagination and willingness to learn,” (3) and expands on the compositional idea of lives as artistic creation in Composing a Further Life (2010). She refers to a second type of adulthood, in which new meaning and ways to craft life patterns are expressed, and she concludes that “Adulthood II” can be a life stage of unprecedented, vital, intergenerational health and interaction.
• Young people learn about the skills and physical capabilities of older persons, as well as gain an understanding of their diversity and individuality.
• Youngsters gain positive role models in aging adults.
• Children gain not only new knowledge but also a sense of perspective that develops as part of the aging process.
• Both old and young share the experience of learning from both mistakes and triumphs.
• Seniors make a meaningful connection with younger generations.
• Older adults can develop new child-rearing skills to use with their own grandchildren.
• Making new friends of any age with common interests lifts people out of isolation, and helps to combat loneliness.
In the last century, before the age of nursing homes and day-care, the inter-generational connection was a natural and necessary part of everyday life for both young children and grandparents. Well-organized, supervised programs in city parks are a great way to explore and rediscover some of those joys and benefits.
(2) Statistics Provided by the National Institutes of Health--Nat. Institute on Aging, U.S. Department of
Commerce and the Bureau of the Census
(3) Bateson, M.C., Composing a Further Life: The Age of Active Wisdom. 2010.
Randy Eady is an intergenerational rehabilitation specialist and instructor at Veteran’s Park.
Samantha Roland is the site supervisor for the park. For more information, visit www.mydelraybeach.com.
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More About Super-Sized Croquet (Or Toe-quet)
Many people remember playing backyard croquet and “target Frisbee” as kids. They may have even played make-shift lawn bowling. And quite possibly they recall losing the balls and Frisbees, or breaking the mallets in long grass on bumpy lawns, but still having lots of fun.
The idea behind super-sized croquet is to toss out the mallets and make the balls so big you can’t possibly lose them. And it’s not difficult to make them go far because the game uses soccer balls that are kicked instead of struck with mallets. Hence, the name: “Toe-quet.”